Happy anniversary when sea huts briefly took over the internet.
NPR was among the media organizations promoting the glamorous Internet phenomenon in January 2021 of people throwing nautical folk songs. After the inevitable wave of redistributions and parodies, this trend quickly fizzled out.
“It was like a complete madness for a week, and then no one remembered it again,” Rebecca Jennings reflects. Vox’s chief correspondent covers internet culture; I coined the term “garbage trend” in an article published in December to describe this fast-moving, short-lived phenomenon on the Internet.
Examples of other trash trends I’ve noticed over the past year range from mass-baked feta pasta, the eruption of intense interest in “RushTok” (hopefully an Alabama sorority explaining their fast-wear), Elon Musk’s sporadic promotion of Dogecoin and a divisive slang term” cheugy.”
Jennings notes that “garbage trends … are a bit like fast fashion.” “They just kind of come out of nowhere, it seems like in the moment, everyone is overwhelmed with interest and in some ways money, time, meaning, and then the next week…a metaphorical dump of ideas.”
There is nothing new in fads and trends. Rightly or wrongly, many people associate the Dutch Golden Age of the mid-17th century with the obsession with excessive tulips. Your great-grandparents may have participated in the Charleston dance craze in the 1920s. (Old clips of Josephine Baker performing it seem almost alarming in TikTok videos.)
But Jennings points out a big difference. “The speed of these trends that come and go is much faster,” she says. “I think TikTok and these other algorithm-based platforms are a big part of it.”
These algorithms direct, direct and monetize our attention. It’s also what drives the spin of content that appears in personalized feeds on Netflix, Spotify, or your news app of choice.
“Hardly anyone knows how these algorithms actually work,” Jennings says, referring to casual consumers driven by machine intelligence — and, to some extent, even marketers who are manipulating them. “They test something and then if it doesn’t explode, they’ll throw it out. If that happens [blow up]They’ll put it in everyone’s faces, and then move on to the next thing.”
Jennings is concerned about how trash trends are driving cultural conversations during the ever-increasing void of local news — and notes that it’s often easier to run through angry responses through a segment of a school board meeting a thousand miles away than to find unbiased coverage of Your school board meetings. She adds that garbage trends, like NFTs, cryptocurrencies, or Web 3.0, are taking a lot of oxygen online. “But you don’t really know what’s meaningful or valuable about them.”
Halle Kane / Tik Tok
When TikTok user Nathan Evans posted his demo of “Wellerman,” he inspired a huge wave of marine tin singing videos on the app.
Thanks to TikTok, the world got a peek at the clothes worn by students at the University of Alabama who pledged to women.
Ultimately, says Jennings, litter trends also reflect the pace of the epidemic over the past two years. “Things seemed so frenetic,” she continues. Vaccines have arrived, and everything seems to be in full swing. “Oh wait, no, Delta’s here. It’s not all right. And oh, omicron. What should we do?”
Jennings says the trash trend — though stupid — can help people feel rooted at the moment when the future feels terribly uncertain. Anyway, the litter trend is not a trend. As long as algorithms are invested in our attraction, the garbage trends are here to stay.